The sounds of indifference

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

I'd never eaten at a Sonic drive-in restaurant before, but like most consumers I'd seen their occasionally amusing ads on the television. Then I read about a Sonic opening up in one of our local suburbs, only word spread the place had continuous wrap-around-the-block traffic. That seemed like too much work for what appeared to be corporate fast food. But last week a Sonic opened much closer to me, so I figured I'd give it a whirl.

What I tried: Cheeseburger, chili dog, onion rings, cheesy tater tots, limeade

Before the boom: Prior to dining at Sonic, I paid them a little website visit and learned a few things. I discovered that the original Sonic premiered in Oklahoma in 1953 and was called Top Hat. But as Top Hat's popularity spread, and it began replicating itself throughout the Southwest, the burgeoning chain found out its chosen name was already trademarked. As a result, the company made the change to Sonic, which meshed with their claims of providing "service with the speed of sound."

Something else I learned: Sonic professes it's "committed to providing wholesome menu options" and congratuulates itself for offering string cheese as a side dish for the kiddies. I thought this curious until I realized raw cheese might well be the healthiest thing on Sonic's menu.

Hop on Sonic: As I pulled into one of the old-fashioned carports at Sonic, outside speakers were broadcasting "Sonic radio" -- which was basically '80s hits when I was there. But the overriding gimmick here is there's no inside dining, and all ordering is done via disembodied voices a la a drive-thru bank.

When my food was ready -- and granted, it came out rapidly -- the bags were delivered by a waitress on roller skates. I had to smile at that.

Window dressing: After my server precariously parked my lipped food tray on the driver's side window, I dug in. The cheeseburger was large in circumference but quite thin, had too much bun and was a remarkably generic-tasting fast-food burger. Ditto for the no-better-than-DQ chili dog -- a sloppy little affair with salty hot dog sauce and gloppy yellow cheese.

The crispy onion rings stood out because they were nearly as sweet as donuts. As for the tater tots, they were slightly undercooked, glued together with a congealed cheese "single" and otherwise exactly what you'd expect. The best thing I tried: a limeade with an actual lime in it.

Would I go there again?: The novelty of roller skates and juggling food in a car seat was quaint at first -- then just silly and messy. Expect shirt stains, plus grease, onion, mustard and pickle juice clinging to your fingers but no place to wash. I might tolerate this for interesting grub, but not for stuff this undistinguished. Still, I might go back for one of Sonic's many drink combos -- they claim to have over 160,000 sippable variations.

WE TRIED IT! Spot a new menu item you'd like Taste Test to try? E-mail